Pa. legislators set to pass concealed carry without a gun permit. Will it become law?

J.D. Prose
Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

A bill that would allow Pennsylvanians to carry a concealed handgun without a permit could soon be up for a vote in the state House.  

State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-Lawrence County, introduced House Bill 659 on May 17, and it was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on May 25 in a 14-11 mostly partisan vote.

State Rep. Todd Stephens, a former Montgomery County assistant district attorney, was the only Republican on the committee to vote against the bill. 

At a gun rights rally organized by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, on Monday at the state Capitol, Bernstine said his bill could be voted on by the House as soon as Tuesday.

But the bill, even if it passes the GOP-led Legislature, is not expected to become law. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vowed Monday to veto it, and the Legislature would likely not have the votes to override him.

In a statement after the legislation passed the Judiciary Committee, Bernstine contended the current process for a concealed carry permit is a “duplicative abuse” of Second Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.  

“House Bill 659 defends the rights of the citizens in our commonwealth,” Bernstine said. “Those Pennsylvanians who follow the law each day should not be punished or hindered if they choose to carry a firearm.” 

Lawrence County Republican state Rep. Aaron Bernstine's bill to allow permitless concealed carry could go to a vote as soon as Tuesday, he said at a Monday gun rights rally in Harrisburg.

Bernstine’s law would allow those age 21 and over who have passed a criminal background check to buy a gun to legally carry a concealed handgun without a permit. There would also be an optional permit offered to allow Pennsylvanians to carry in 32 other states that recognize reciprocity. 

At the small rally in front of the state Capitol, Metcalfe championed Bernstine’s bill as a way to protect gun owners’ rights.  

“We need concealed carry so law abiding citizens don’t have a hurdle, an obstacle, between them and the ability to exercise their rights,” he said.  

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, also spoke at the rally and, as recorded by Bernstine for a Facebook Live video, ticked off several incidents from around the country where would-be crime victims defended themselves with concealed carry guns.  

“For my whole life we’ve had to defend this portion of the Constitution,” Perry said. “It’s unacceptable that we’ve had to, but we had to.”  

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What opponents say 

Bernstine’s bill drew opposition from guns safety groups and Democrats.  

Wolf tweeted about several Republican bills, including Bernstine’s and ones that restrict abortion rights, saying: “I will oppose any bill that reduces gun safety measures." 

CeaseFire PA has been highly critical of Bernstine’s bill, saying it “would needlessly endanger civilians and law enforcement.”  

The group said in a statement after the Judiciary Committee vote that “now is not the time to be removing the few safeguards we do have in place against the carnage.”  

Another gun rights bill 

There is also House Bill 979, introduced by state Rep. Matt Dowling, R-Fayette County, which would strengthen Pennsylvania’s pre-emption law to keep municipalities from enforcing their own gun restrictions. 

Dowling said in a December co-sponsorship memo that while state law exists, “the courts have made that law very difficult for ordinary citizens to enforce.” 

The bill, which was also approved in a 14-11 by the Judiciary Committee on May 25 with Stephens opposing it, would allow anyone who successfully challenges local anti-gun laws to be reimbursed for attorney fees and costs for lawsuits, as well as loss of any related income.  

Dowling’s bill would give municipalities 60 days “fair notice” to repeal “its offending ordinance” to avoid a lawsuit and require the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office to notify all municipalities of the bill’s requirements before it goes into effect. 

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J.D. Prose is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jprose@gannett.com.